Federal employees including park rangers and other law enforcement tasked with patrolling federal lands saw an increase in overall violence and the first death of a park ranger in a decade.
When Mount Rainier National Park ranger Margaret Anderson was killed Jan. 1, 2012, it was the first death of a park ranger since 2002, said the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. She is only the ninth park ranger to be killed on the job since the agency's founding in 1916, the group said.
Parks police saw the largest uptick in violent incidents, 42 percent, a PEER study found. Fish & Wildlife Service officers noted 25 percent more violent incidents.
In many of the instances, drug smugglers traversing sparsely populated national parks or marine sanctuaries are to blame, PEER said.
"Unfortunately, violence and abuse directed against public servants is becoming more common," PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch said.
He cited conflicts related to resource protection policies, growing use of public lands for meth labs and marijuana plantations, as well as deeper penetration of backcountry by off-road vehicles as reasons for the violent uptick.
The figures do not show any clear pattern reflecting liberalized loaded firearms rules in national parks and refuges, which went into effect in 2010, the group said.
"The saying 'it's not easy being green' is becoming truer with each passing year," Ruch said.